When talking to independent public accounting leaders across the country, we hear these two concerns the most often: not enough rainmakers and long buying cycles.

Any hope of motivating or coaching professionals into becoming rainmakers should be dropped. You will have very few people who love going out and making new connections that lead to new business. You do, however, have great client service masters, process experts and firm builders. Other than building a sales culture with real sales people (uh, expensive and risky), why not first leverage the power of your website to do some of the heavy lifting for you?

You already have a website. You have to pay for it. Your referrals are already going there. In fact, we heard of one frustrated company CEO who organically searched for a different accounting firm, then bookmarked the site until he was ready to switch firms.

All you have to do is lead your visitors through a carefully laid out path of inspiration, information, intrigue and fresh ideas that convince them it’s time for a conversation…or at least a special bookmark that promises follow-up.

If you haven’t mapped out the steps that a prospect goes through when choosing an accounting firm, download our infographic in the sidebar of this page and keep reading.

Your business development process should consider strategies for at least these stages:

Attraction/Initiation – Your prospect starts to see your name (on social media, in articles, at an event, etc.) or realizes they have a need and begins to research providers and finds you that way.

  • At this stage, you need a modern and visually clean website that makes a referral feel like your accounting firm is “qualified.” This is gate one. Most websites stop here. But your accounting firm can get further with referrals by leading them through a conversation while they’re online — and actively looking at your firm.

Research/Narrowing the Criteria – Your prospect researches your website and other firms and/or clarifies what they need as time passes and their need becomes more insistent.

  • This is gate two. On your home page, immediately engage visitors in a pathway of content that leads them into further interest. With one click, they should be guided to the segment that interests them.

Evaluation – Your prospect has reduced the number of potential firms to only a few or one vs. the status quo.

  • Gate three. Most referrals are looking to switch firms, or they are at a stage of their business or life where they know they need more specialized help. In this stage of buying, they should be seriously considering that someone at your firm could be the answer to their needs. After you have shown them a variety of interesting articles about their problems, this is where your team bios need to really capture their imagination. Can they imagine working with your people?

Negotiation/Closing – Remember that until the sale is closed, you may still be in competition with the status quo (e.g. doing nothing). This is also a stage where your referral may need to drive more buy-in at their company to switch CPA firms and hire yours.

  • Give them a gift. We don’t mean a basket of fruit. Give them a valuable guide, whitepaper, checklist, webinar — something that helps them solve a problem before they even start working with you. We have found that accounting firms that put some skin in the game of landing more referrals — providing valuable information on their websites beyond a description of their services — are among the highest growth firms in the industry. Last year, one of our clients derived 60% of their new business from sharing valuable, niche-specific content.

Next post: Is your content worth the time and trouble? Read more.